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The Rough Guide to South America On a Budget (Travel Guide eBook)

The Rough Guide to South America On a Budget (Travel Guide eBook)

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The Rough Guide to South America On a Budget (Travel Guide eBook)

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30 ore
Jan 1, 2019


Discover this dazzling continent with the most incisive and entertaining guidebook on the market. Whether you plan to sample the street food at Paraguay's Mercado 4, spot a giant turtle in Ecuador's Gal pagos, or strut your stuff in Brazil's Carnaval parades, The Rough Guide to South America on a Budget will show you the ideal places to sleep, eat, drink, shop and visit along the way -without blowing your budget.

Independent, trusted reviews written with Rough Guides' trademark blend of humour, honesty and insight, to help you get the most out of your visit, with options to suit every budget.
Full-colour maps throughout - navigate Brasil a's airplane-shaped network or Cusco's ancient streets without needing to get online.
Stunning images - a rich collection of inspiring colour photography.
Ideas - Rough Guides' rundown of South America's best sights and experiences.
Itineraries - carefully planned routes to help you organize your trip.
Detailed regional coverage - whether off the beaten track or in more mainstream tourist destinations, this travel guide has in-depth practical advice for every step of the way.

Areas covered include [10-15 areas]: Argentina; Bolivia; Brazil; Chile; Colombia; Ecuador; The Guianas; Paraguay; Peru; Uruguay; Venezuela.

Attractions include [5-10 attractions]: Ca n de Colca, Peru; Easter Island, Chile;Iguaz Falls, Argentina; Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia; The Amazon, Brazil; ThePantanal, Brazil; Kaieteur Falls, Guyana.

Basics - essential pre-departure practical information including getting there, local transport, accommodation, food and drink, health, the media, festivals, outdoor activities, culture and etiquette, and more.
Background information - a language section to help you get by in Spanish and Portuguese
Make the Most of Your Time on Earth with The Rough Guide to South America on a Budget

About Rough Guides: Escape the everyday with Rough Guides. We are a leading travel publisher known for our "tell it like it is" attitude, up-to-date content and great writing. Since 1982, we've published books covering more than 120 destinations around the globe, with an ever-growing series of ebooks, a range of beautiful, inspirational reference titles, and an award-winning website. We pride ourselves on our accurate, honest and informed travel guides.

Jan 1, 2019

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The Rough Guide to South America On a Budget (Travel Guide eBook) - Rough Guides


Flamingos in the Bolivian Altiplano



South America

Where to go

When to go




Getting there

Getting around



Culture and etiquette

Work and study

Crime and personal safety

Travel essentials


1   Argentina

2   Bolivia

3   Brazil

4   Chile

5   Colombia

6   Ecuador

7   The Guianas

8   Paraguay

9   Peru

10 Uruguay

11 Venezuela






Introduction to

South America

From the cloudforests of Ecuador to the pampas of Argentina, South America is a dizzying trove of landscapes, ancient ruins, giant rivers and dynamic, modern cities that have fuelled the imagination of adventurers for centuries. Trace Darwin’s voyage through the Galápagos, Francisco de Orellana’s fantastical journey along the Amazon or Che Guevara’s route across the snowcapped peaks of the Andes. Discover Eva Perón’s Buenos Aires, a truly beautiful, stylish metropolis, or pick up the trail of Bruce Chatwin across the lonely plains and ice-bound fjords of Patagonia. Whether exploring the elegant cities of Gabriel García Márquez’s Colombia, soaking up Aymara culture in Bolivia, or just chilling on a white-sand Brazilian beach, options for budget travellers remain extensive and highly alluring.

Much of the continent’s dynamism is a result of the collision of cultures here over the last five hundred years. South America’s peoples were devastated by European invasion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not least by the introduction of diseases that killed thousands. Yet indigenous culture never entirely disappeared and is especially strong in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil to this day. Indeed, much of the continent’s people are proud of their mestizo heritage; indigenous, Spanish and Portuguese cultures dominate, but West African, British, Italian, German, French and Dutch influences have also contributed over the years, supplemented more recently by waves of Japanese, Chinese and Middle Eastern settlers. As the Argentine saying goes, Peruvians come from the Incas; Argentines come from the boats.

This blending of races and cultures across the continent means that South American nations have a lot in common. Catholicism has provided a foundation for spiritual life here for centuries – sometimes blurring with far more ancient indigenous beliefs, especially in the Andes, it has created a legacy of magnificent churches and exuberant fiestas. When it comes to natural wonders the continent is equally blessed, with just about every terrain – from deserts and glaciers, to grasslands, rainforests and wetlands – and a range of wildlife found nowhere else: rheas, llamas, giant anteaters, jaguars and armadillos among them. The mighty Amazon River connects the Atlantic with the Brazilian jungle and the Peruvian Andes, while the lofty mountain chain itself runs from Colombia and Ecuador in the north, through Peru and Bolivia to the south of Chile and Argentina. This shared cultural and natural heritage is reflected in the ease of crossing borders, with multi-nation itineraries relatively simple to put together, whether traversing the River Plate between Argentina and Uruguay or the Atacama between Chile and Peru.

Today, South America is booming: Portuguese-speaking Brazil, the largest, richest and most populated country in South America, is a global power in the making, while Peru, Chile, Colombia and Argentina are important regional players. It’s an exciting time to visit; backpackers will still find an extensive range of accommodation on offer, with plenty of options for the tight budget. South America also sports some of the best camping and hammock-slinging spots in the world, as well as many exhilarating adventure tourism destinations. Travelling within the continent varies wildly from country to country; sometimes it will require a little patience, initiative and navigating of red tape, but the colourful bus journeys, sunrise ferry crossings and people you’ll meet along the way will be impossible to forget.

South America’s best beaches

1 Brazil: Copacabana and Ipanema, Rio

It’s hard to beat the sand, cocktails and glamour at Brazil’s most famous beaches, where you can sip on fresh coconuts, listen to samba or play volleyball, all in the shadow of one of the most dynamic cities on earth.

2 Brazil: South Atlantic beaches

The longest stretch of tropical beaches in the world? From the gorgeous tropical strands south of Salvador at Morro de São Paolo, a jumping resort of laidback lounges, bars and parties, all the way to Jericoacora, the land of giant dunes, celebrated for wind-and kite-surfing.

3 Colombia: Parque Nacional Tayrona

Colombia’s Caribbean coast is lined with fine, white-sand beaches all the way to Panama, but some of the best (and least developed) can be found in this pristine national park, a short drive or boat ride from the city of Santa Marta.

4 Ecuador: Playa Los Frailes, Parque Nacional Machalilla

The most enticing of Ecuador’s Pacific beaches, a blissfully untouched strand of chalky sand backed by jungle-smothered mountains. Visit during the week and you’ll probably have it to yourself, especially in the early morning.

5 Peru: Huanchaco

Peru offers a string of relaxed backpacker resorts, from quiet retreats to party places such as Máncora, but the surfer hangout of Huanchaco just about tops the lot with its fine beaches and fishing-village appeal.

6 Uruguay: Cabo Polonio

Cabo Polonio is the place to really escape from civilization (it’s only accessible by boat, 4WD jeep or a 7km hike over the rolling dunes). The main activities here are lounging in hammocks, strolling the dunes and visiting the nearby sea lions.

7 Venezuela: Playa El Agua, Isla de Margarita

Almost as glitzy as Copacabana (but much cheaper), El Agua is a 4km-long strip of golden sands, backed by huge palm trees, restaurants and jumping bars. Venezuela’s current troubles seem very far away indeed.

< Back to Introduction to South America

Where to go

Brazil alone could occupy several months of travel, though many pan-continental itineraries also begin or end with Rio de Janeiro, one of South America’s most alluring cities: with the world’s most exuberant carnival, hip nightlife, trend-setting beaches and that mesmerizing skyline, it’s hard to beat. South of Rio lie the wealthier parts of the country, from the colonial elegance of Paraty, the sprawling business and cultural hub of São Paulo and awe-inspiring Iguaçu Falls (also accessible from Argentina), to the golden beaches of Florianópolis and backpacker-friendly Ilha do Mel. Heading towards Uruguay, Porto Alegre is the home of belt-busting Brazilian churrasco (barbecue). In Northeast Brazil, the easy-going city of Salvador is one of the most energetic in the country and the home of tropical beaches and Afro-Brazilian culture. The interior of Brazil contains the enchanting colonial heartland of Minas Gerais, the unfairly maligned Modernist capital of Brasília and ultimately the Amazonian Basin, an unimaginably vast region of rivers and rainforest, rich in wildlife, best accessed from Belém or Manaus. It’s possible to travel by boat from the mouth of the Amazon all the way to Peru, a spellbinding adventure.

Trips to Chile and Argentina are easily combined, often beginning with grand old Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital and the ravishing city of Evita, tango, Borges and Boca Juniors. To the west sits Mendoza, centre of Argentina’s ever-improving wine regions, while across the pampas to the south lies Patagonia, divided from its Chilean counterpart by the jagged peaks of the Andes. Slicing between the two countries are mind-boggling glaciers and ice-fields, shimmering mountain lakes, volcanoes and activity-based mountain towns, from Bariloche and the trekking centre of El Chaltén in Argentina, to Pucón and Puerto Natales across the Chilean border – the latter is the gateway to the jaw-dropping Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. These days Tierra del Fuego is more a land of penguins, sea lions and flamingos than a land of fire, and is also split between the two countries, with isolated Ushuaia in Argentina the world’s southernmost city. North of Chile’s capital, Santiago, and the elegantly faded port city of Valparaíso, the Atacama Desert provides a dramatic, witheringly beautiful contrast. The sandy beaches of Arica in northern Chile make a pleasant stop en route to Peru or Bolivia.

Getty Images

Carnaval de Oruro, Bolivia

Sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, and easily tacked on to a trip to either, Paraguay and Uruguay lack major showstoppers, though landlocked Paraguay’s Jesuit ruins and national parks offer a glimpse of a South America untrammelled by the twenty-first century. While adventure tourists may not flock to Uruguay, its relaxed, cultured capital Montevideo (an easy day-trip from Buenos Aires) sports crumbling churches and enlightening museums. Punta del Este’s upmarket beach resorts are only a couple of hours from here and are worth checking out, if only briefly, by those on a budget.

Bolivia is perhaps the continent’s most intriguing destination, encompassing snaggle-toothed peaks, dense jungles and a dynamic indigenous culture, best absorbed in the capital La Paz, around Lake Titicaca, heartland of the Aymara and especially on the Isla del Sol, said to be the spiritual centre of the Andean world. The silver-mining city of Potosí funded the kings of Europe for centuries, while Sucre is one of the most captivating colonial cities on the continent.

Backpackers continue to flock to Peru, globally renowned for the great Inca ruins at Cusco, the Valle Sagrado and especially Machu Picchu, the jaw-dropping mountain hideout on which all images of lost cities are now based. Many travellers reach the city on foot via the Inca Trail, a truly magical experience. Yet Peru has a lot more to offer, from virgin Amazonian jungle protected in parks such as the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and a long dry coastline where ceviche became an art form, to the booming nightlife and innovative culinary scene in Lima.

Ecuador has much in common with Peru and is easily combined with a trip to its larger southern neighbour. The highland capital, Quito, is crammed with absorbing museums and colonial architecture, while the rest of the country is littered with volcanoes, old Spanish towns and beguiling indigenous markets. Naturalists, however, should head straight for the extraordinary Galápagos islands, home to some of the world’s most astonishing wildlife.

At the northern end of the continent, Colombia continues to be an up-and-coming travel destination, much safer after years of drug wars and guerrilla insurgencies. Immerse yourself in the salsa-soaked nightlife of Bogotá, the coffee-growing landscapes of the Zona Cafetera and the romantic colonial towns of Cartagena and Popayán. The mesmerizing scenery around Villa de Leyva is perfect for hiking, while San Gil is the base for adventure sports, especially white-water rafting. Far to the north, closer to Nicaragua than South America, the Isla de Providencia is part of the remote San Andrés chain, home of palm-fringed Caribbean beaches and a spectacular reef ideal for divers.

Neighbouring Venezuela remains a far more challenging country to visit, but the rewards for doing so are considerable; experience untouched national parks, spectacular Caribbean beaches and the Amazon region of Guayana, which contains the Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall.

The Guianas, comprising the former British and Dutch colonies of Guyana and Suriname and the French overseas département of French Guiana, are often overlooked. However, their three capital cities, Georgetown, Paramaribo and Cayenne respectively, are home to cool bars and colonial wooden architecture in picturesque decay, while French Guiana has the added appeal of the Centre Spatial Guyanais, Devil’s Island (immortalized in Papillon). English-speaking Guyana offers a taste of West Indian culture – with cricket, rum and rotis, it’s more Barbados than Brazil.

< Back to Introduction to South America

When to go

With about two-thirds of South America near the equator or the Tropic of Capricorn, visitors to most destinations can expect a tropical or subtropical climate all year round. Temperatures rarely drop below 20°C, while rainforest regions average maximum temperatures of about 30°C. As you get further south (and don’t forget the southern hemisphere reverses the seasons), you’ll find colder winters from June to August and milder summers from December to February, with the extreme south of the continent freezing between April and October. It’s important to plan around the rainy season in each country, particularly when travelling in the Andes.

Domestic tourism, especially in the richer countries of the south, is booming, meaning that hostels, hotels and transportation can become fully booked during the summer (December to March), especially on the coast, so book ahead if possible. Expect hordes of local tourists to hit the road in any country on major religious holidays, especially Christmas and Semana Santa (Easter).

< Back to Introduction to South America

Alex Robinson/AWL Images

Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro

Incredible Journeys


1 Inca Trail, Peru

Tackle the four-day hike between Cusco and Machu Picchu, a spell-binding mountain trek into the Inca past.



2 Carretera Austral, Chile

Wend your way along this spectacular Patagonian highway, rounding ice-fields, vast glaciers and jagged fjords.


3 Cycling the Death road, Bolivia

A hair-raising adventure on two wheels in the mountains near La Paz.

Tim Draper/Rough Guides


4 Ruta 40, Argentina

Travel this epic 5000km highway along the Andes, from the Bolivian border to the bottom of Patagonia.

Getty Images

5 Serra Verde Railway, Brazil

This enchanting train ride winds around mountains and traverses one of the largest Atlantic Forest reserves in the country.

6 The Circuit, Torres del Paine, Chile

This seven-to ten-day hike is the best way to soak up the charms and wildlife of the rugged national park.

Architectural Wonders


1 Valparaíso, Chile

Colourful half-painted houses cascade down the hills alongside distinctive ascencores (funiculars) in Chile’s quirkiest city.


2 Historic Centre, Salvador, Brazil

Locals know it as Pelô and love this UNESCO World Heritage Site for its pastel-coloured buildings in their restored Renaissance glory.


3 Cusco, Peru

This former capital of the Inca empire charms with its colonial and Incan architectural treasures, which often battle it out on the same site.

Celsodiniz/ 15TR

4 Niemeyer’s masterpieces, Brazil

Latin America’s greatest architect, Oscar Niemeyer, designed the capital, Brasília, while his Museum of Modern Art, in Niterói near Rio, clings to the cliff like a recently landed flying-saucer.


5 Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

The walled Old City is a beauty, its narrow old streets crammed with picturesque corners, while cool, new Afro-Colombian music blows in from Cartagena’s neighbourhoods into the night.


6 La Compañía de Jesús, Quito, Ecuador

Opulence? Try seven tonnes of gold to dress up this decadent wonder, which took 163 years to build.

Amazing Wildlife


1 The Pantanal, Brazil

The world’s largest wetland is home to thousands of animal species; giant river otters, giant anteaters, jaguars, pumas and capybaras among them.


2 Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Witness the giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions and flightless cormorants that Charles Darwin observed, developing his theories on evolution here.


3 Amazonian Basin, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru

Explore the Amazon and you’ll find everything from poison dart frogs to snapping piranhas.


4 Cañón del Colca, Peru

The best place in the Andes to see condors rise up the sides of a mesmerizing canyon wall.


5 Beagle Channel, Argentina

Take a thrilling boat trip to see the sea lions, penguins, whales and seabirds of Tierra del Fuego.

Getty Images

6 Los Llanos, Venezuela

This tropical grassland supports hordes of capybaras, crocodiles, anaconda, armadillos, scarlet ibis and over sixty species of waterbirds.

Local Flavours


1 Pisco sours, Chile and Peru

There’s a fierce rivalry between Chile and Peru about where the spirit pisco originates, but everyone agrees it’s best drunk in a pisco sour. You can visit pisco distilleries in Chile’s Elqui Valley and Ica in Peru.


2 Asunción, Paraguay

Eat fresh street food at Mercado 4, one of Latin America’s great markets, or make for the neighbourhood of Loma San Jerénimo where local houses have been converted into homespun restaurants, and roof terraces into bars.

Tim Draper/Rough Guides


3 Mendoza’s bodegas, Argentina

Splash out on a degustation – and a glass of wine, naturally – among the vineyards with views of the cordillera.


4 Córdoba, Argentina

A wining and dining delight for everyone, the city offers fashionable restaurants in converted mansions, tasty empanadas on the go and edgy bars in revamped warehouses.

Getty Images

5 Rio de Janeiro’s nightlife

Head to the neighbourhood of Lapa on Friday night for its street parties and samba.

6 Miraflores and Barranco, Lima, Peru

These swanky neighbourhoods are Lima’s sparkling coastal highlights; treat yourself to delicious lime-marinated ceviche and ocean views.

< Back to Introduction to South America



You can’t expect to fit everything South America has to offer into one trip – or two or three or four, to be fair – and we don’t suggest you try. This selection of itineraries will guide you through the different countries and regions, picking out a few of the best places and major attractions along the way. For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few together, but remember that the distances you’ll be covering can be vast. There is, of course, much to discover off the beaten track, so if you have the time it’s worth exploring smaller towns, villages and wilderness areas further afield, finding your own perfect hill town, deserted beach or just a place you love to rest up and chill out.


Rio de Janeiro The beaches, the samba, the towering statue of Christ the Redeemer looming over it all – Rio has every base covered to kick off your trip in style.

Costa Verde Backed by forested mountain peaks, the coastline between Rio and São Paulo contains hidden gems like colonial Paraty and spectacular beaches at Ilha Grande.

Minas Gerais This state inland from Rio offers some of Brazil’s most stunning historic towns – none more attractive than Ouro Preto.

Brasília Come see the vision of the future, circa 1960, courtesy of Oscar Niemeyer’s Modernist architecture.

The Pantanal If you’re not going to make it out to the Galápagos during your travels, consider checking out the huge array of wildlife in this vast wetland.

Ilha Santa Catarina Some of the best beaches in the country can be found on the coast near Florianópolis.

Serra Gaúcha The mountain bases of Canela and Gramado serve two nearby parks with crashing falls and challenging climbs and hikes.


Buenos Aires The most cosmopolitan of all South American cities, worth a few days of anyone’s time.

Colonia del Sacramento If you’re just going to dip into Uruguay, you can’t do better than the historic centre of this charming town.

Eastern beaches, Uruguay Beach getaways to suit every budget, from quiet Cabo Polonio with no roads or electricity to the flashy surf resort of Punta del Este.

Rosario The perfect spot to launch yourself into the Paraná Delta.

Córdoba Wander from the colonial centre to Nuevo Córdoba, a neighbourhood chock-a-block with cool bars and restaurants in converted mansions.

Mendoza Undoubtedly the best stop for wine-lovers, a sophisticated city with great restaurants and hundreds of nearby bodegas.

Cerro Aconcagua Whether you take two weeks to scale the summit or just see a section on a day-hike, the tallest mountain in the western hemisphere will sear itself into your memory.

Salta Its central plaza is a lovely place to begin an evening stroll.

Parque Nacional el Rey The lush cloudforests here hold colourful toucans, as well as other exotic fauna and flora.

Iguazú Falls Better to see the crashing waters from the trails and catwalks on the Argentina side.

The Ruta Jesuítica Visit Paraguay’s famous Jesuit ruins; Trinidad and Jesús are a four- to five-hour coach ride from Iguazú Falls.


Volcán Villarrica Skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering – you can experience the smouldering volcano up close.

Lago Llanquihue A sparkling blue lake with volcanoes, white-water rafting and waterfalls.

Western and southern Chiloé The protected areas have some great coastal hiking through fishing villages, forests and beaches.

San Martín de los Andes A lower-key version of Bariloche and a hub for getting out to the nearby lakes and Parque Lanín.

Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi Well-marked trails, plentiful campsites and huts, crystal-clear lakes and much more make this the most popular Patagonian park on the Argentine side.

Península Valdés Consider an eastern detour here to see abundant birdlife, a sea-lion colony and – if you time it right – whales on their migration route.

Perito Moreno Glacier The unquestioned highlight of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, a calving glacier that provides theatrical drama for onlookers.

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine The most famous destination on the Chilean side of Patagonia – and perhaps the best trekking in the entire region.

Ushuaia If you’ve made it here you’re practically at the end of the world – send a postcard, eat some seafood, ski in winter and dream of Antarctica, 1000km away.


Santiago Relatively developed Santiago is a gentle introduction to South America, with some interesting museums and neighbourhoods to explore.

Valparaíso Ride the ascensores (funiculars) around the hilly streets by day, then eat, drink and carouse in the gritty port area at night.

Pisco Elqui This charming village, with views over the Elqui valley, is the perfect place to sample a pisco sour.

Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces Drive by arid salt flats, spot vicuñas and guanacos, and stay by a lake populated with colourful flamingos.

San Pedro de Atacama An oasis town chock-full of natural attractions in the surrounding altiplano wilderness.

Salar de Uyuni You’ll have to go on a tour, but it’s worth the trip to see the flat, white salt lake, perfectly reflective in summer when covered with water.

Potosí The colonial architecture and lively cafés make an uneasy contrast with the tragic legacy of the nearby silver mines at Cerro Rico.

Santa Cruz One of the rare places in Bolivia known for its excellent restaurant and club scene.


Guayaquil An alternative introduction to Ecuador than more traditional Quito; the Malecón and nearby beaches make it seem like a different land entirely.

Otavalo Few can resist the town’s famous Saturday market, the ultimate place to purchase a hammock or woodcarving as a keepsake.

Quito Base yourself in the old town, where plaza after plaza provides a vantage point for historic churches and narrow walkways.

The Quilotoa Loop Hike for a few days around the peaceful waters of a volcanic crater lake.

Nariz del Diablo train ride A five-hour journey starting in Riobamba and slicing its glorious way through the Andes.

Cuenca Ecuador’s third-largest city and possibly its most beautiful, with cobbled streets and the vibe of an Andean town.

Huaraz This lively city, nestled in a valley, affords you an approach to trekking in both the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash.

Lima Love it or hate it, you can nevertheless find plenty to occupy you in the Peruvian capital, and the proximity to the sea makes it a great place to try out ceviche.

Trails to Machu Picchu Discover less expensive and less crowded alternative Inca Trails deep in the imposing jungle.

Cusco As much of a hub as Lima and closer to many of the country’s highlights – though its plazas, museums, restaurants and nightlife certainly stand on their own.

Lago Titicaca Whether you visit the Uros islands on the Peru side or the sacred Isla del Sol in the Bolivian section, you’re certain to be awed by the high-altitude lake.

La Paz Now this is what an Andean capital city should be: delightfully situated high up in a canyon, full of interesting and inexpensive places to eat, drink and stay, and with an undeniable energy all its own.

Sucre The official capital’s beautifully maintained colonial architecture accounts for the nickname White City, but don’t overlook this pretty town’s excellent bars.


Before undertaking this itinerary, note that Venezuela is in a state of crisis, that security (from crime) is a big problem in the country, that Western governments such as the UK’s Foreign Office and US State Department were advising against all but essential travel there, and that you should therefore check out the latest situation before deciding whether to go there.

Bogotá Colombia’s densely packed, cosmopolitan capital divides opinion, but is a worthwhile first or last stop for its colonial architecture and raucous nightlife.

San Agustín A crazy array of monolithic statues, with a lovely mountain landscape serving as a backdrop.

Cali This might be Colombia’s most fun and freewheeling city, with plenty of salsa clubs and streetlife to balance out the sober array of churches.

Medellín From Cali you can travel up to Medellín – an attractive, modern city that’s had quite a makeover in the past decade – via Colombia’s coffee country.

Cartagena The jewel of the Caribbean coast, a gorgeous colonial city and a must on any Colombia trip.

Parque Nacional Tayrona Beautiful beaches, lush flora and pre-Columbian ruins are the highlights of this pristine coastal park, accessed from Santa Marta.

San Gil Colombia’s best spot for adventure sports is known for its white-water rafting, but you can also try out paragliding, kayaking, abseiling and more in the mountains north of Bogotá.

Villa de Leyva Under an hour from San Gil, this is a thoroughly unmodern and relaxed colonial town; from Villa de Leyva or San Gil you can loop back to Bucaramanga for buses to the border with Venezuela at Cúcuta, though don’t linger here.

Mérida Contemplate adventures to nearby mountains, a trip to wildlife-rich Los Llanos or just chill out in this laidback city.

Ciudad Bolívar Venezuela’s most lovely colonial town and the gateway to Angel Falls and the Orinoco Delta.

Angel Falls Journey by boat and on foot to reach this towering waterfall.

Orinoco Delta Visit the delta jungle region for a truly mind-blowing experience.

Parque Nacional Henri Pittier A great mix of beaches, wildlife and walking trails – and it’s relatively near Caracas, which makes your exit or travel connections easier.


Chapada Diamantina Some of the best hiking and waterfall hunting in the country is to be found in this canyon-filled national park.

Salvador For candomblé, capoeira or Carnaval, Bahia’s capital is practically the country’s capital. Seek out fine beaches, diving and surf at nearby Morro de São Paulo.

Olinda You won’t find a prettier array of churches, plazas and houses anywhere in the north of the country.

Fortaleza The central market is a sure bet to buy a hammock; take it with you to Jericoara, the best beach in the area.

Belém Great restaurants and bars, but the main reason to come is its location at the mouth of the Amazon.

Manaus After seeing the astounding Teatro Amazonas, grab some of the fine street food on offer and head to the lively port area.

Amazon river trip Float along the Rio Negro to a jungle lodge or even just a clearing where you can string up a hammock – or head along the Amazon all the way to Iquitos in Peru.

< Back to Introduction to South America


Humahuaca to Iruya bus, Argentina


Getting there

Getting around



Culture and etiquette

Work and study

Crime and personal safety

Travel essentials

Getting there

The range of direct flights from Europe to South America – particularly Argentina, Brazil and Chile – is currently expanding. As well as European carriers like British Airways, Iberia and Air France, South American airlines, such as Aerolíneas Argentinas, Avianca and particularly LATAM (previously LAN and TAM), provide a choice of schedules and routes. Many people travel via the USA, usually through a hub such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta or Miami; these routes are particularly useful for northern South America. Note that many immigration departments in South America insist you have an onward or return ticket to enter the country, though the application of such rules is stricter in some countries than in others.

Airfares are seasonal, with the highest around July, August and mid-December to mid-January; you’ll get the best prices during the dry winter (May, June and late Sept) and the wet summer (in most of the region Feb–April, excluding Carnaval and Easter). Flying on weekends is often more expensive. You can generally cut costs by going through a specialist flight agent, booking flights well in advance or taking advantage of online-only offers and (sometimes) airline frequent-flyer programmes. Another way to cut costs is to book with a tour operator that can put together a package deal including flights and accommodation, and tours as well.

Flights from the UK and Ireland

Book months, not weeks, in advance for cheaper flights to South America from the UK, unless you manage to get a last-minute deal – which you can’t always bank on. If you’re prepared to fly indirectly, you’ll also get a cheaper price, but this could mean a long stopover. Return flights from the UK and Ireland start at around £450–500, though you should expect to pay more. British Airways has direct flights from Heathrow to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Buenos Aires in Argentina and Santiago in Chile, though fares tend to be more expensive than those of its European and South American rivals. In early 2018, Norwegian launched low-cost flights from Gatwick to Buenos Aires, and reportedly has plans for flights to further destinations in South America. There are also plenty of options to travel with a European airline such as Air Europa (which vies with Norwegian to provide the cheapest fares), Iberia, TAP or Air France, via their hub cities. US airlines like American Airlines sometimes offer competitive fares, too.

Flights from the US and Canada

American, Delta and United airlines have direct flights to most major South American capitals from US cities, with the cheapest fares generally from Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta and Miami. Several South American Airlines also serve the USA; Avianca often has good-value fares to northern South America, particularly its home base of Colombia. Direct flights from Canada are very limited; it’s generally best to travel via the USA, though it is also possible to travel via Central America. Expect to pay from around US$500 for return flights from either the US or Canada.

Flights from Australia and NZ

The best deals to South America are offered by Aerolíneas Argentinas and LATAM in conjunction with Qantas and Air New Zealand. Aerolíneas Argentinas flies from Sydney to Buenos Aires, via Auckland, with connections across the continent; Qantas has code-shares with LATAM via Auckland to Santiago and beyond. There are also plenty of flights via the US, but these take longer and tend to cost more. From Australia and NZ expect to pay at least US$1400 – but you can sometimes pay much more. Often airlines will charge more if you wish to stay in South America for longer than a month.

ESTA clearance

The US government requires those travellers coming to or through the USA (even just transiting) on the Visa Waiver Program to apply for clearance via ESTA Make sure you do this at least 72 hours before travelling; you’ll need your passport to hand, and the admin fee is US$14. Once a traveller has received clearance, it remains valid for two years for unlimited visits.

Major border crossings, overland and sea routes

The following is an overview of the main land and sea crossings travellers can use to travel between the countries of South America. The information is fleshed out in the accounts of relevant border towns within this book.

To Argentina

From Brazil Most people use the easy road crossing to Puerto Iguazú from Foz do Iguaçu.

From Bolivia There are three overland entry points: Villazón to La Quiaca, Bermejo to Aguas Blancas and Yacuiba to Pocitos.

From Chile The most popular border crossing is the Santiago–Mendoza route via the Los Libertadores tunnel. If you’re coming from the south, routes in the Lake District include Osorno–Bariloche, and Temuco–San Martín de Los Andes. Further south still are the Puerto Natales–El Calafate and Punta Arenas–Río Gallegos crossings. In the north, there is a popular crossing from San Pedro de Atacama to Jujuy/Salta.

From Paraguay Popular road crossings include to Posadas from Encarnación, to Clorinda from Puerto Falcón, and to Puerto Iguazú from Ciudad del Este.

From Uruguay Boats to Buenos Aires depart regularly from Colonia del Sacramento, and less frequently to Tigre from Carmelo. You can also cross by road to Gualeguaychú from Fray Bentos.

To Bolivia

From Argentina There are three overland entry points: La Quiaca to Villazón, Aguas Blancas to Bermejo, and Pocitos to Yacuiba.

From Brazil The busiest crossing is from Corumbá to the railhead of Puerto Quijarro. There are also crossings in the Amazon, including from Guajará-Mirim to Guayaramerín.

From Chile The most popular crossing is from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni via a three-/four-day salt flats tour.

From Paraguay There’s an arduous crossing via the trans-Chaco road.

From Peru The most popular, and straight-forward, crossing is around Lake Titicaca, from Puno to Copacabana.

To Brazil

From Argentina Most people use the easy road crossing to Foz do Iguaçu from Puerto Iguazú.

From Bolivia The busiest crossing is from the railhead of Puerto Quijarro to Corumbá. There are also crossings in the Amazon, including from Guayaramerín to Guajará-Mirim.

From Colombia In the Amazon region it is possible to take a riverboat from Leticia to Manaus.

From the Guianas Minibuses cross from the Guyanese town of Lethem to Boa Vista, 130km southwest.

From Paraguay Most people cross over the Puente de la Amistad bridge from Ciudad del Este to Foz do Iguaçu.

From Peru There is a land crossing to Assis Brasil from the Peruvian village of Iñapari. The small Amazonian port of Tabatinga can be reached from Iquitos, via the Santa Rosa border post.

From Uruguay Many people use the overland crossing from Chuy to Chui; other options include from Rivera to Santana do Livramento, Bella Unión to Barra do Quarai, and Artigas to Quarai.

From Venezuela From Santa Elena de Uairén buses cross to Boa Vista.

To Chile

From Argentina One of the most popular border crossings is the Mendoza-Santiago route via the Los Libertadores tunnel. If you’re coming from the south, routes in the Lake District include Bariloche-Osorno, and San Martín de Los Andes-Temuco. Further south still are the El Calafate-Puerto Natales and Río Gallegos-Punta Arenas crossings. In the north, there is a popular crossing from Jujuy/Salta to San Pedro de Atacama.

From Bolivia The most popular crossing is from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama via a three-/four-day salt flats tour.

From Peru Frequent buses, colectivos and taxis cross from Tacna to Arica.

To Colombia

From Brazil In the Amazon region it is possible to take a riverboat from Manaus to Leticia.

From Ecuador The Panamerican Highway runs north from Ecuador, with the Ipiales–Tulcán crossing the most popular and straightforward crossing.

From Peru In the Amazon region travellers can take a riverboat from Iquitos to Leticia.

From Venezuela There are three main overland border crossings: from San Cristóbal to Cúcuta, Maracaibo to Maicao, and Casuarito to Puerto Carreño.

To Ecuador

From Colombia The Panamerican Highway runs south from Colombia, with the Ipiales–Tulcán crossing the most popular and straightforward crossing.

From Peru There are three border crossings: Tumbes-Machala-Tumbes (the most popular, on the Panamericana); from Piura to Loja via La Tina; and (more difficult thanks to poorer roads and several bus changes) from Vilcabamba to Jaén.

To The Guianas

From Brazil Minibuses cross from Boa Vista to the Guyanese town of Lethem, 130km northeast.

To Paraguay

From Argentina Popular road crossings include to Encarnación from Posadas, to Puerto Falcón from Clorinda, and to Ciudad del Este from Puerto Iguazú.

From Bolivia There’s an arduous crossing via the trans-Chaco road.

From Brazil Most people cross over the Puente de la Amistad bridge from Foz do Iguaçu to Ciudad del Este.

To Peru

From Bolivia The most popular, and straight-forward, crossing is around Lake Titicaca, from Copacabana to Puno.

From Brazil There is a land crossing from Assis Brasil to the Peruvian village of Iñapari, a three-hour bus ride from Puerto Maldonado. Inquitos can be reached from the small Amazonian port of Tabatinga via the Santa Rosa border post.

From Chile Frequent buses, colectivos and taxis cross from Arica to Tacna.

From Ecuador There are three border crossings: Machala-Tumbes (the most popular, on the Panamericana); from Loja to Piura via La Tina; and (more difficult thanks to poorer roads and several bus changes) from Jaén to Vilcabamba.

To Uruguay

From Argentina Ferries head to Colonia del Sacramento from Buenos Aires, and less frequently to Carmelo from Tigre. There are buses from Colón. You can also cross by road to Fray Bentos from Gualeguaychú.

From Brazil Many people use the overland crossing from Chui to Chuy; other options include from Santana do Livramento to Rivera, Barra do Quarai to Bella Unión, and Quarai to Artigas.

To Venezuela

From Brazil From Boa Vista, buses cross to Santa Elena de Uairén.

From Colombia There are three main overland border crossings: from Cúcuta to San Cristóbal, Maicao to Maracaibo, and Puerto Carreño to Casuarito.

Round-the-world tickets and airpasses

If South America is only one stop on a longer journey, consider buying a round-the-world (RTW) ticket all sell RTW tickets.

If you’re planning to do a lot of travelling in South America, an alternative is to buy an

From Central America

Crossing overland from Panama into Colombia is not recommended as it entails traversing the Darién, a wild, lawless region occupied by guerrillas. The safest option is to fly – Bogotá and Caracas are the main points of entry – or take a boat from Panama to the Caribbean coast of Colombia. There is a ferry service from Colón in Panama to Cartagena, Colombia.


Aerolíneas Argentinas

Air Europa

Air France

Air New Zealand


American Airlines


British Airways

Delta Airlines


Iberia Airlines





TAP Air Portugal

United Airlines

A better kind of travel

At Rough Guides we are passionately committed to travel. We believe it helps us understand the world we live in and the people we share it with – and of course tourism is vital to many developing economies. But the scale of modern tourism has also damaged some places irreparably, and climate change is accelerated by most forms of transport, especially flying. All Rough Guides’ flights are carbon-offset.

Agents and operators

Dragoman A range of overland trips on a giant 4WD truck, with accommodation in hotels, hostels or tents.

Exodus Walking and cycling – and everything in between across the continent.

HostelTrail A useful resource for hostels and budget tour companies in South America.

Hotwire Last-minute savings of up to forty percent on regular published fares. Travellers must be at least 18 and there are no refunds, transfers or changes allowed.

Intrepid Australia Global company with almost three decades organizing adventure group travel – also has a basix option for those on a budget.

Journey Latin America Knowledgeable and helpful staff, good at sorting out stopovers, open-jaw flights and package tours.

REI Adventures Climbing, cycling, hiking, cruising, paddling and multi-sport tours to many countries on the continent.

Round The World Flights Specialists in round-the-world flights, both tailored and off the shelf.

STA Travel Low-cost flights and tours for students and under-26s, though other customers welcome. Good for round-the-world tickets.

Trailfinders One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers.

Travel Cuts Canadian student-travel organization.

Tucan Travel Australia Specializing in adventure and backpacker holidays – and also has a budget option. Based in Australia but offices worldwide.

Wilderness Travel Adventure travel and wildlife tours throughout South America.

< Back to Basics

Getting around

Most South Americans travel by bus, and there is almost nowhere that you can’t reach in this way. The major routes are comfortable and reliable and always cost effective. Moreover, you will see more, and meet more people, if you travel by bus. Remember, though, that distances between towns can be huge, and that in more remote areas such as Patagonia there are few bus and no significant train services. If you have spare cash and limited time, you may want to fly occasionally, or rent a car. There are frequent flights within and between South American countries; the former are generally much cheaper. Public transport options vary within each country. Many places will have minibuses that depart when full and take set routes, as well as rickety local buses. There are also mototaxis in some places (similar to those in Thailand and India), which are good for covering short distances within towns.

By bus

This is by far the cheapest way to see the continent. While you can, technically, travel all the way from the tropical north to Tierra del Fuego by bus, there are relatively few direct international services and you often have to disembark at the border, cross it, then sometimes get on another bus to a large city in the new country. The best bet for an international service is in capital cities or major hubs near borders; in places with limited transport you may just have to buckle down and take what’s on offer.

Terminals are often situated on the outskirts of towns – follow the signs to the terminal (in Spanish-speaking countries) or the rodoviária (in Brazil). Levels of comfort vary, so a quick visual check in the terminal will give you an idea of which company to go for. With better bus companies on long-distance routes, the seating options usually include normal seats, seats that partly recline (semi-cama) and seats that recline fully (cama) to become beds. They are priced according to the level of comfort, with the most expensive options including on-board meals, drinks, TV screens, and even games of bingo. Some of the cheapest companies only have one level of comfort and that can mean anything from wooden seats to standing in an aisle.

By car

In many parts of South America roads, especially outside the major cities, are notorious for their bumpy, potholed and generally poor conditions. Most car rental companies do not allow their vehicles to be driven across borders, making independent exploration of the continent by car difficult.

If you are determined to go it alone and drive around South America, you will find car rental companies at all airports and in most major cities. Hotels can advise you of better-value local places, but often it’s better to book in advance online. Costs are high thanks to skyrocketing insurance rates, but the independence of a car may be worth it. An international driving licence is recommended although most of the time you will probably be able to use the one issued by your country of residence (and may not even be asked for the international one). Check your insurance carefully for exclusions, as car theft, vandalism and general security are renowned problems in many parts of South America, and you may not be covered for these. Damage to tyres or the underside of the car may also be excluded. Consider the state of the roads you’ll drive on before choosing your vehicle type.

Rental charges

By air

Accommodation alternatives

Useful websites that provide alternatives to standard hotel and hostel accommodation:




By train

Trains are generally much less frequent and efficient than South American buses, but if you have a little time to spare they provide a wonderful way to see the countryside and wildlife, as they tend to travel more exotic routes. Typically, they are less expensive than buses, but services in popular tourist areas can be pricey. Two of the most famous routes are from Cusco to the start of the Inca Trail in Peru and the Serra Verde Express between Curitiba and Morretes in Brazil. There are several types of train, including the fast and efficient ferrotren, stopping at major stations only; the average tren rápido; the slower expreso, which stops at most stations; and the super-slow and amazingly cheap mixto, which stops for everyone – and their livestock too.

By boat

There are several ferry and catamaran services on South America’s lakes and rivers, especially in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, providing unforgettable views, including the Southern Lakes Crossing between Argentina and Chile.

One of the finest ways to soak up the slow pace of South American life is to travel some of the continent’s rivers by boat. Unfortunately, the riverboat industry is in decline, especially on the Amazon, with more passengers flying and cargo-only replacing many travel boats. However, several riverboat services survive, recommended for anyone with time and patience, particularly on the narrower, less-frequented rivers. Shop around, as boats vary hugely in quality. Your ticket will include hammock space and basic food, but drinks are extra and will probably be expensive on board – it’s best to bring your own supplies. You should also bring a hammock, rope, insect repellent and a sleeping bag, and aim to be on board well before departure to ensure that you don’t get put right next to the toilets.

By bicycle

If you’re fit and hardy enough to consider cycling in South America, there are a few common-sense rules. Given the terrain, a mountain bike is best, unless you stick to paved roads and well-travelled routes. Taking on some of the Andean roads, though, is an experience hard to rival. In adventure travel centres, especially in Argentina and Chile, bikes can be rented for short periods, but if you’re doing serious cycling, bring your own. Bikes and bike parts tend to be of a lower quality in South America than in other parts of the world, so give your bike a thorough check before you go. Carry a basic repair kit and check the bike daily when you arrive. Weather can be a problem, especially in Patagonia, where winds can reach 80km/hr, and be aware that bicycle theft – particularly in larger towns – is common; bring a good bike lock. Finally, remember that South American drivers can be a hazard, so try to avoid major roads and motorways if at all possible.


While we don’t recommend hitching as a safe way of getting about, there’s no denying that it’s fairly widely practised by South Americans in many rural areas. If you decide to hitch, set off early and be aware that many drivers expect to be paid – it’s only in the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile and Uruguay) that hitchhiking is generally understood to be free. Prices are usually around that of a bus fare, but if you head to the local truck park or refuelling station (most towns have one), ask around for the going rate. Hitchhiking in South America, like anywhere in the world, is a potentially dangerous enterprise – travellers should be aware that they do so at their own risk. Couples and groups are safest; women should never hitchhike alone.

< Back to Basics


The range of accommodation available in South America – and the variety of price and quality that goes with it – is enormous and, should you be embarking on a multi-country tour, you’ll find that the US$10 that buys you a night’s rest in Bolivia may not even stretch to breakfast in the Southern Cone or French Guiana.

Most local tourist offices provide a list of available accommodation, but bear in mind that establishments often pay to be included and that they may include little outside the main tourist hotspots. Generally, tourist boards will not recommend specific accommodation, nor book it.

Usually there is no shortage of places to stay, but use common sense if you plan to be somewhere at the time of a local festival, such as in Rio for Carnaval. Obviously, accommodation fills up quickly at these times, prices skyrocket and it’s best to book well in advance. While the types of lodging described below offer an overview of your options in South America, names, classifications and prices vary from country to country. Unless alternatives such as dorms or camping are specified, prices quoted for accommodation throughout the guide are for the cheapest double room in high season

Altitude sickness

If you don’t take care, altitude sickness, known locally as soroche, can seriously affect your trip. The most common symptoms are headache, nausea and dizziness, but when climbing at high altitude (above 2400m), symptoms can lead to more serious conditions such as HAPE (high altitude pulmonary oedema) or HACE (high altitude cerebral oedema), when medical attention should be sought immediately.

Soroche can affect anyone regardless of physical fitness. The key is to allow a few days to acclimatize when you arrive in a high-altitude region. When hiking, ascend slowly and follow the rule sleep low and hike high (sleep at a lower altitude than you ascended to that day), which allows your body time to recover. Drink plenty of water and eat light food, including carbs. Avoid alcohol and caffeine and, most importantly, pace yourself. Don’t attempt to climb a mountain like Cotopaxi or Chimborazo after just a few days at 2800m in Quito – you need a couple of days above 2500m, then a couple more above 3500m before climbing over 4000m. If you are hiking as part of a tour and not dealing well with the altitude, alert your guide. Better to turn back than risk your health. In the Andes many locals swear by "mate de coca" – coca leaf tea – as a cure.

Hospedajes, residenciales, albergues and pensiones

These categories of accommodation are all used throughout South America and are largely interchangeable, although pensiones (known as pensões or pousadas in Portuguese) and residenciales are typically the most basic forms of accommodation. Generally, the Andean countries are the least expensive, and you should be able to find a decent room in a residencial or pensión for under US$15–20 (US$10 for dorms). For this price, you should expect a bed, shared bathroom and (generally) hot water. In Brazil, room costs usually include breakfast but most other places are room only. In southern Argentina and Chile, you can expect to spend around US$45–55 a night – check out the quality of the local casas familiares (family houses, in which you stay with a local family in a room in their house), which are often good value for money in these areas.

Hostales, hosterías and haciendas

Hostales tend to fill the gap between the totally basic pensión and hotels, and come in many shapes, sizes and forms. Usually they include private bathrooms and hot water, clean towels and maybe a television, and cost US$15 to US$25 per night. In the southern countries, though, hostale sometimes means youth hostel.

Hosterías and haciendas are often old, sprawling estates or ranches converted into hotels, and are perhaps the grandest places to stay on the continent. They can be furnished in period style and offer excellent home cooking, log fires, maybe a swimming pool, and often horseriding and other country-style activities. Be aware that hostería can also refer to a family-style hotel complex out of town.


Camping is most popular in the southern region of Latin America, particularly in Argentina and Chile. It is wise to stick to official sites, which are usually well equipped, with hot water, toilets, fire pits and maybe even a self-service laundry. Camping is not really a popular or viable option in the northern countries unless as part of an organized tour, and is practically non-existent in Colombia, French Guiana and Paraguay, though French Guiana does offer carbets, shelters where you can hang a hammock.

Youth hostels

Youth hostels are not always the most viable option in South America, but in the more expensive countries like Argentina, Brazil and Chile, they are a more attractive choice: competition means that many have great facilities and offer extras, from free bike rental to barbecue nights. Prices average US$10–20 per night and most are open all year, although some only open in January and February for the South American summer. If you are planning on using hostels extensively, consider getting an official HI card, which will quickly pay for itself in discounted rates.

Hostelling organizations

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay Regional chain of hostels.



South America Membership cards and worldwide hostel booking.

< Back to Basics


The potential health risks in South America read like a textbook of tropical diseases and the possibilities could easily deter nervous travellers before they even set out. But if you prepare for your trip carefully and take sensible precautions while travelling, you will probably face nothing worse than a mild case of diarrhoea as your system gets used to foreign germs and unhygienic conditions.

It is important to get the best health advice before you travel – prevention is always better than cure. Consult a medical

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